Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology

First Advisor

Martha E. Wadsworth, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Debora Ortega

Third Advisor

Iris Mauss

Fourth Advisor

Sarah Watamura

Fifth Advisor

Chip Reichardt


Anxiety, Children, Physiology, Poverty, Reactivity, Social support


Poverty increases children's exposure to stress, elevating their risk for developing patterns of heightened sympathetic and parasympathetic stress reactivity. Repeated patterns of high sympathetic activation and parasympathetic withdrawal place children at risk for anxiety disorders. This study evaluated whether providing social support to preschool-age children during mildly stressful situations helps reduce reactivity, and whether this effect partly depends on children's previously assessed baseline reactivity patterns. The Biological Sensitivity to Context (BSC) theory proposes that highly reactive children may be more sensitive than less reactive children to all environmental influences, including social support. In contrast, conventional physiological reactivity (CPR) theory contends that highly reactive children are more vulnerable to the impact of stress but are less receptive to the potential benefits present within their social environments. In this study, baseline autonomic reactivity patterns were measured. Children were then randomly assigned to a high-support or neutral control condition, and the effect of social support on autonomic response patterns was assessed. Results revealed an interaction between baseline reactivity profiles and experimental condition. Children with patterns of high-reactivity reaped more benefits from the social support in the experimental condition than did their less reactive peers. Highly reactive children experienced relatively less reactivity reduction in the neutral condition while experiencing relatively greater reactivity reduction in the support condition. Despite their demonstrated stability over time, reactivity patterns are also quite susceptible to change at this age; therefore understanding how social support ameliorates reactivity will further efforts to avert stable patterns of high-reactivity among children with high levels of stress, ultimately reducing risk for anxiety disorders.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Brian Cory Wolff


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

69 p.


Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology